Tibet Sky Burial: Most Extreme Burial Ritual Vultures Eating Dead Bodies

Tibet Sky Burial: Most Extreme Burial Ritual Vultures Eating Dead Bodies

Sky burial is a funeral practice in which a human body is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposed to elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals especially vultures. This is a specific type of general practice of excarnation. In Tibetan Buddhism, sky burial is believed to represent their wishes to go to heaven. This is the most widespread way for the commoners to deal with the dead in Tibet.

If a Tibetan dies, the corpse is wrapped in white Tibetan cloth and placed in the corner of the house for three or five days, and family lights butter lamps beside the deceased, during which monks or lamas are asked to read the Holy Scriptures aloud so that souls can be freed from purgatory. Family members stop other activities to create a peaceful environment that will allow spirits to go to heaven.

Later, the day of the funeral is determined by divination. The funeral is not attended by family members and relatives. Instead, they're staying home and praying. Villagers take the body to the sky burial site by horse or car. The day before the burial, the family members took off the clothes of the dead and put the corpse in a fetal position. Specifically, the body is bent in a sitting position, with the head bent against the knees.

Once the body is kept in a sitting position for two days, and the lama recites the necessary prayers, then the corpse is sent to the burial site between the mountains, which is always far from the residential area. Then juniper is burned to attract vultures, Lamas sing sutras to redeem the sins of the soul, and a professional celestial burial master performs rituals over the body. The corpse is placed face down on the stones, the hair is removed, and the burial master begins to chop up the limbs with axes or other tools and throwing them to the waiting vultures.

If the vultures consume the whole body, it's a good sign. Tibetan folk custom believes that even vultures will not want to consume a human body if they have done evil deeds in their lives.

The practice of sky burial has a deep connection with the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans believe that if the vultures come and eat the body, it means that the dead have no sin and that his soul has peacefully gone to Paradise, and the vultures on the mountains around the celestial burial platform are "holy birds" and eat only the human body without attacking any small animal nearby. Any remains left behind by the Holy birds are collected and burned.

In Tibet, there are also other ways to bury bodies after death, including water burial, cremation, and ground burial. Sky burial is the most common, although people who have died from infectious or diseases are not given a sky burial for fear of endangering the vultures. Instead, they're buried in the ground or cremated. 

There is another reason behind the more functional sky burial practice, In much of Tibet and Qinghai, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and because of the scarcity of fuel and timber, the sky burials were usually more practical than the traditional Buddhist practice of cremation. In the past, cremation was limited to high lamas and some other dignitaries, but modern technology and difficulties with the sky burial have led to increased use of cremation by commoners.

Sky burial is a private matter, strangers are not allowed to attend the ceremony because Tibetans believe it will bring negative efforts to the upsurge of souls. As a general rule, visitors should respect this custom and keep away from such occasions unless they are invited by friends or family.

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